Anjan Chatterjee: We are constantly responding to our environment without being aware of it

Anjan Chatterjee. Image: Archive of Anjan Chatterjee

Anjan Chatterjee is a Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the founding director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics.

He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and his neurology residency from the University of Chicago. Formerly Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Chatterjee’s research interests include neuroaesthetics, spatial cognition, language, and neuroethics.

Anjan is the author of The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art.

Natalia Olszewska: Anjan, could you tell our readers about your background?

Anjan Chatterjee: I’m a neurologist and a cognitive neuroscientist. For over thirty years, I’ve studied spatial attention, language, and the relationship between language and space. I’ve done work in neuroethics because advances in neuroscience have ethical implications for how we live.

I have also been working in neuroaesthetics for over twenty years. When I started in the late nineties, there was almost nothing in the scientific literature on this topic. If you look at the publication rates in neuroaesthetics and neuroarchitecture, there was an inflection about ten years ago where the field started to take off.


Susan Magsamen: The marriage of science and art will transform architecture

susan magsamen
Susan Magsamen. Image: Archive of Susan Magsamen

Susan is the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, a pioneering neuroaesthetics initiative from the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Her work lies at the intersection of brain sciences and the arts and how our unique response to aesthetic experiences can amplify human potential. She is the co-author of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us with Ivy Ross, Vice President for Hardware Design at Google. 

Susan is also the designer of the Impact Thinking model, an evidence-based research approach to accelerate how we use the arts to solve problems in health, wellbeing, and learning. In addition to her role at IAM Lab, she also serves as co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint project in partnership with the Aspen Institute.

Natalia Olszewska: What’s your story, Susan? When did you start to think about the brain, art, and architecture?

Susan Magsamen: When I was little, my twin sister had a farming accident where she almost lost her leg. We were always close, and it was very traumatic for us both. It separated us because she had to stay home for a year, and I had to go out into the world without her. And what was crazy about that is that I’m an introvert, and she’s an extrovert, so our roles were reversed.

Before the accident, my sister wasn’t an artist, but she started making art partly because she was bored. She also realized that she had a deep fear from trauma stuck inside of her. And she couldn’t talk about it because there were no words to express it. At that time, fifty years ago, we didn’t know much about Broca’s area of the brain and how it can shut down because of trauma.


How to Design Homes for People With Dementia According to Neuroarchitecture? 

Image: CDC on Unsplash

I grew up in my grandmother Ramona’s house. She was a happy and outgoing person. The house was always full of people. In the morning, it was filled with neighbors who took a few minutes on their way to work to have coffee with her, and in the afternoon, the house was filled with friends, children, grandchildren, and nephews. It was a house full of energy and memories of the past.

At the age of 75, my grandmother began to confuse the names of the people who visited her, and it was then that her children realized it was due to dementia. My father, Gildardo, who lived next door to my grandmother, cared for her. He helped her keep track of her medications, stock the refrigerator with food, and ensured she always had what she needed.

My grandmother’s home was a significant part of her life. It was a place where she felt safe and comfortable. It was also a place where she could connect with her memories. She had many pictures and belongings from her life on display. These things helped her remember her past, family, and friends.


Designing for Creativity: What Does Neuroscience Say?

Image: Jr Korpa on Unsplash

This article was originally published in the Architecture Snob magazine, issue December 2022.

Today, we spend about eighty to ninety percent of our time inside buildings. We now also know that our brains and bodies are affected by contact with architecture, and the interest in understanding the environment’s impact on human wellbeing is growing.

There are many new studies on this topic released every year, and architectural studios are employing the services of human experience researchers and consultants.


Gábor Bindics: The most powerful change in public space is when people dare to use it.

Gábor Bindics. Image: Archive of Gábor Bindics

Gábor Bindics studied cultural management at the University of Pécs and alternative energies at the Budapest University of Technology. He worked at the National Portrait Gallery in London and founded a silent cinema in Paris. He is the founder of the Cultural Centre Dunaj and the Švihaj Šuhaj cycle courier service. He is currently leading the project of the Old Market Hall in Bratislava and working on the project of reopening the Grössling Baths.

Michal Matlon:  Gábor, you said that what interests you the most is how spaces impact social life. Could you tell us when you first realized that spaces could have this impact? What made you think about it?

Gábor Bindics: Fifteen years ago, I was living in Paris. Together with my friends, we set up a cinema in the center, near the Luxembourg Garden. We found an unused space and looked for its potential. But to see this potential, we first had to understand the space well.

An architect usually responds to such an understanding with architecture. But I was interested in how we could work with this space without adding mass. That’s when I started reading about the philosophy and sociology of space.


Understanding the Experience of Architecture, Part 2

Image: Yulia Chinato on Unsplash

This article was originally published in Polish language, in the IARP magazine (Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland), issue Z:A 86.

In the first part of this article, we talked about the pioneering individuals and institutions that create new knowledge between architecture and neuroscience. We have also described the brain systems important for understanding the experience of architecture.

In this second part, we will look at how architects can use this knowledge to design spaces that enable human flourishing.

Previously, we saw that although some aspects of experiencing architecture are an individual matter, the activation of many structures and brain circuits is universal to most people.

Evolutionary psychology explains this is because humans and their predecessors spent millions of years in the same natural conditions (so-called “environment of evolutionary adaptation”).

Today, we use the same brains, mostly unchanged in the last two hundred thousand years, to experience man-made architecture.


Marie Hesseldahl x My Lunsjö: Clients now ask about the human experience

Marie Hesseldahl and My Lunsjö. Image: Zuhal Kocan / 3XN

Marie Hesseldahl Larsen is a partner at 3XN / GXN and Head of the office’s dedicated Interiors team. Marie has extensive experience with the competition department, developing conceptual designs and large-scale competition projects – primarily for offices, as well as cultural, hospitality, and public buildings. Marie looks to integrate behavioral insights and sustainable techniques from GXN into her projects and has led the Interior design team in a range of ambitious projects in Denmark and abroad.

My Lunsjö is a behavioral specialist in the behavior design unit at 3XN / GXN. She is an architect by training, with an additional master’s degree in environmental psychology. My works closely with the 3XN architectural teams to inform design processes with her insights from the field of architectural psychology. Her aim is to increase the health and well-being of those who use the architecture by focusing on aspects such as sensorial experiences, and the influence of light and colors on the perception of space.

Michal Matlon: My, we met a few years ago at a conference in Prague. At that time, you were working for the City of Copenhagen. Tell us a bit more about your background.

My Lunsjö: I have an architectural background, but I also have a master’s degree in environmental psychology. My thesis focused on implementing research in the architectural design process and bridging the two fields.

Research is often text-heavy and not so hands-on. Architecture, by contrast, is a craft based on intuitive experience, and the way of working is more fluid. So, I make a connection between these two worlds. Now I work with Marie at 3XN, an architecture studio, and at GXN, their innovation department.


Understanding the Experience of Architecture, Part 1

Image: Kai Dahms on Unsplash

This article was originally published in Polish language, in the IARP magazine (Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland), issue Z:A 86.

The twentieth century was a time of progress in structural engineering. It resulted in taller, more solid, and technologically innovative buildings. However, recent decades have seen an increased interest in the human experience of space.

Today, people spend about eighty to ninety percent of their lives indoors. This fact makes it crucial to investigate the relationship between the experience of architecture and its impact on human health and well-being.

Until recently, the study of the effects of architecture on humans was the domain of environmental psychology. But in the past few years, we have gotten new tools to study the neural mechanisms underlying the perception of art and architecture.


Martina Frattura: Just adding more light won’t improve street safety

Martina Frattura. Image: Arianna Grillo.

Class 2020 of the 40 under 40 lighting designers, Martina works with the goal of implementing psychological and biological responses to architectural planning. Her research ‘A Beautiful Light’ investigates the use of artificial lighting in support of restorative attention.

Currently, she is working as Lighting Designer, for the Portuguese lighting design & engineering studio WhitePure and is also part of the interdisciplinary team of Impronta, specializing in translational research from neuroscience and behavioral sciences to architectural design. Martina is involved in various educational projects like the Women in Lighting, Designers Mind and the Beauty Movement.

Natalia Olszewska: Welcome, Martina! To start, tell us, how did your journey combining light design and psychology start?


Yodan Rofè: The architect is just a vehicle. The wholeness generates the design.

Yodan Rofè

Yodan Rofè is an architect and urban planner with over 20 years of professional, teaching, and research experience. He was the founder of the Movement for Israeli Urbanism and served for five years as the Head of Urban Design at Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing. 

His research interests include building processes and structures of informal settlements, urban form and movement, accessibility and equity, cognition and feeling in the built environment, as well as public space and street design. 

Together with Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, he wrote The Boulevard Book published by MIT Press. Together with Kyriakos Pontikis, Yodan edited the book In Pursuit of a Living Architecture: Continuing Christopher Alexander’s Quest for a Humane and Sustainable Building Culture, published by Common Ground Publishers.

Natalia Olszewska: I’d love to understand your connection to Christopher Alexander. Could you tell us about meeting him and his influence on you?